Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment has been a rising star in the games publishing community, having published such recent hits as Batman Arkham Asylum, Mortal Kombat, and Bastion. But they weren't always such a major player in the industry; in fact, their presence was relatively minor until around 2007.
Warner Bros. Interactive began licensing their properties under their current name around 1995, with the first being Batman Forever, licensed to Acclaim. They continued to license their most popular properties, such as DC Comics, Looney Tunes, and various Cartoon Network shows, as well as movie licenses, to various companies over a stretch of about eight years. While Warner Bros. had little to no involvement in the development of any of these games, it was a quick and easy way for them to make money on their existing properties while handing development over to more experienced industry veterans.
Only problem was, these industry veterans were often working under harsh deadlines with little support, and the quality of the products being produced as a result of these deals was suffering greatly. In 2003, Warner Bros. co-published Looney Tunes: Back In Action with EA. It was their first little experiment with video game publishing. In 2004, Warner Bros. acquired Monolith Productions, developers of the FEAR franchise. They were slowly taking a more active role in the games industry, tentatively dipping a toe in the water before jumping in. They wanted to see if it was viable for them to make Warner Bros. a household name in gaming, just as it was in other forms of entertainment.
Under Warner Bros.' guidance, Monolith developed The Matrix Online, which was co-published by SEGA. Following the game's release, Warner Bros. continued to seek out new partners in the games industry. They bought a 10.3% stake in SCi Entertainment, the owners of Eidos Interactive, in 2006. Later that year, they published their first game on their own, called Justice League Heroes.
By 2007, Warner Bros. had seen that there was, in fact, a substantial market to be had on consoles, and they wanted their name to be as respected in gaming as it was in film. To this end, they announced a five year plan to expand into the gaming industry. They outlined a plan to acquire more game studios, as well as to create their own internal studios in the Seattle area to ensure quality games were developed. They began their expansion with the acquisition of TT Games later that year. TT Games would go on to become an important factor in Warner Bros. growth; they have been developing LEGO games under the Warner banner for years now, beginning with the successful LEGO Star Wars games.
In April of 2008, Warner Bros. increased their stake in Eidos, gaining a total of 35% along with rights to distribution of their games in the US, Canada, and Mexico. Later that year, in December, Warner Bros. again increased their stake in the company, making for a total of 10 million shares and also granting Warner Bros. the rights to distribute any new Tomb Raider films that may have been in production. Warner's romance with Eidos wasn't meant to last, though, as Square Enix stepped in during 2009 and slowly gained control of the company, changing their name to Square Enix Europe.
Also in 2009, Warner Bros. announced that they had acquired Snowblind Studios in an attempt to strengthen their internal development prowess. Later that year, when troubled developer Midway finally went under, Warner Bros. jumped at the opportunity to acquire many of their old assets, including the powerful Mortal Kombat franchise and the then near-completion The Wheelman. Other assets gained included Joust, The Suffering, Blitz: The League, and Spy Hunter, for a total of $49 million, although Warner Bros. has yet to announce anything regarding these properties. Midway had previously worked in conjunction with Warner Bros. on Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, so the MK acquisition was a natural one. In July 2009, Warner Bros. renamed their MK team to WB Games Chicago, later to be changed again to NetherRealm Studios.
In August 2009, Warner Bros. and Rocksteady Studios released Batman Arkham Asylum for the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Due to the stigma associated with licensed games, the industry as a whole was tentatively excited about Arkham Asylum. Its release turned out to be Warner Bros.' biggest hit yet, raking in positive review scores and Game of the Year nominations from dozens of respected sources. Its success was unanticipated and vast. Shortly after, in February 2010, Warner Bros. announced that they had officially acquired Rocksteady Studios as an internal developer.
On March 22, 2010, Warner Bros. announced that they would be opening a new games studio in Quebec, called WB Games Montreal. It has been projected that the studio will grow to over 300 employees by the end of 2015. They are planning on opening another studio in the city soon as well. These Canadian studios will be largely focused on developing games under the DC Comics label. Continuing a long list of acquisitions, Warner Bros. also took Turbine, developer of Dungeons and Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online, under their wing. This was quickly followed by the announcement that Turbine's Lord of the Rings Online would go free to play in the fall of 2010. Also in 2010, Warner Bros. announced development of a new Mortal Kombat title for PS3 and 360, and a new FEAR title, both eventually to be released in 2011. Finally, to round out 2010, Warner Bros. released Game Party: In Motion for Microsoft's new Kinect peripheral.
2011 is set to be another big year for Warner Bros. Interactive. They released the Mortal Kombat reboot on April 19 to critical acclaim and high sales, especially high for a fighting game. FEAR 3 was released on June 21, and although it received mixed reviews, it was still moderately successful. The company also published Supergiant Games' Bation as part of Microsoft's Summer of Arcade initiative, and this is perhaps their greatest success of 2011 so far. The game received numerous high review scores, averaging an 86 and an 88 on Metacritic for the 360 and PC versions, respectively.
On October 18, 2011, Warner Bros. Interactive released their most anticipated game yet, Batman Arkham City. This game, also developed by Rocksteady Studios, takes Batman out of the confines of the Asylum and into a wide open city teeming with criminal activity.
Warner Bros. Interactive is going strong, and they are only becoming more prominent in the game development scene. In mid-2011, they announced another Batman game, this one developed by Monolith. Called Gotham City Impostors, this game will be a squad-based downloadable shooter for consoles. It sees Batman and The Joker inspiring vigilantes across Gotham to take up arms and fight for their respective sides, leading to a bunch of costumed firefights across the city.
Since Grasshopper Manufacture's relationship with EA's publishing branch fell through with the neutered release of Shadows of the Damned, Warner Bros. Interactive has announced that they will be publishing the company's subsequent games in the North American markets in stead of EA. In the future, Warner Bros. will publish Lollipop Chainsaw with the distinctive developer. Warner will also be working with another acclaimed and unique developer, Double Fine Productions, to create a new Sesame Street game for the Kinect. This game, Sesame Street Once Upon A Monster, was released on October 11, 2011, to generally good reviews despite its status as a children's game.
In the future, Warner Bros. Interactive plans on continuing their strong lineup of releases, combining both licensed games based on their TV shows and movies, and original games such as Lollipop Chainsaw, to make for a strong and varied portfolio. Their planned future releases include, as of late 2011, the conclusion to the LEGO Harry Potter series, a sequel to the original Happy Feet game to premiere alongside the movie sequel, The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, and numerous other licensed games. The company anticipates Arkham City to be a great success, and to fuel their continued rise as a prominent game publisher.